What you should know before hiring a finance consultant
While channel surfing recently, I stumbled upon an infomercial for weight-loss pills. The sales pitch claimed that I could lose all my unwanted pounds, which are more than I care to admit, without any diet or exercise. In other words, I can receive an awesome benefit without doing any work.
On some level, everyone knows that you can't get something for nothing. If you want to lose weight, you have to work at it. Yet, I can't help but think that some nonprofits look at me as their finance weight-loss pill. All they have to do is hire me and they can lose all their unwanted financial baggage without lifting a finger. Unfortunately, consulting does not work that way. I am not the finance weight-loss pill. I am the finance personal trainer.
According to the National Federation of Personal Trainers, a personal trainer creates a safe and effective exercise and fitness program design and provides instruction and assistance for the purpose of reaching personal health and fitness goals.
Similarly, a finance and accounting consultant creates safe and effective financial systems, along with policies and procedures and provides instruction and assistance for the purpose of reaching organizational financial goals.
A personal trainer does not exercise for you, nor does she take ownership of your fitness goals. Likewise, a finance and accounting consultant does not relieve you of the responsibility to provide financial leadership, nor does he take ownership of achieving your financial goals such as a surplus or a balanced budget.
To get your finances in shape you will have to do some hard work. That may include:
Risking new ways of solving problems and managing the fallout from the attempts that do not succeed;
Convincing people to change their roles, tasks, methods, or work style
Leading by example by following financial policies and procedures yourself
Strengthening communication between finance and other departments
Leading organizational culture change
I do not have the leverage to do any of this behavioral work. I will assist you by doing the technical work - like helping you develop financial goals, design systems and establish policies and procedures that meet those goals. I’ll also analyze alternatives. In addition I can provide moral support and celebrate your accomplishments.
But you must do the behavioral work of standing up to the change resisters and insisting on engagement with the technical changes. You must sell the new way of operating. Otherwise, you will be lucky to lose any weight at all.
Paul Konigstein is a senior consultant at Accounting Management Solutions, a division of CliftonLarsonAllen LLP, where he helps nonprofits master finance and accounting. Paul blogs for BoardAssist.org and leads webinars at 4Good.org and you can follow him on Twitter @PaulKonigstein. He’s also preparing to present on the important changes impacting grant and contract-funded nonprofits and strategies for compliance on Sept. 20 at Morgan Stanley in NYC. Paul holds an M.B.A. in finance from New York University and a B.S. in marketing from the University of Pennsylvania and has been assisting nonprofits for almost 25 years.